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I, like many others, used to love what Google stood for ... until last year when everything changed. Don't ask me why they did it ... but last year many small businesses got hit and it seemed that Google didn't care about helping them get back. I for one will be only too pleased to site loss of Google traffic and the futile waste of time trying to get back as my main reason for bad performance last year ... I only hope the tax office understands.
Please Please Please bring back some of the values that used to make Google great.
All the best
Search engines have the power to ruin whole families overnight and that is just wrong. Unfortunately, Google (or any other search engine) is not likely to tell us individually what “might” be causing our ranking problems. Unfair as it may seem, I don’t think their reasons for not telling us is that difficult to understand. It would lead to more gaming of their algo and that is exactly what they try to avoid.
There's another reason that information isn't available. They don't know. It's not easily determined. Consider the mathematical problem of using a non-linear algo with 100 variables, all of which can interact to determine a search result. For one site. Now, consider that since the placement of a site is RELATIVE to all other sites, to explain why a single site's ranking in the SERPS has changed would require looking at the other sites also. And for multiple keywords.
A human being can't figure this out. It's conceivable a computer could do it, and in fact, google must have a simulation program to test changes in algos, but the whole enterprise of telling website owners why placement has changed is simply impractical or impossible.
Google deserves criticism on some points, but on this one, I don't know what people want.
Perhaps it's not understanding algos. It's a lot easier to actually create an complex algorithm, than to know or even determine how that algorithm affects a single website (an instance) amidst maybe a million other sites that might also rank on a keyword term.
In effect, some people are asking for the impossible, almost literally.
The latter rules out telling individual webmasters why their site drops in ranking, since it's not practical or possible. So what have you guys actually have in terms of ideas that would work for everyone?
I don't know what people want.
Two weeks before my banned site was reincluded a Google engineer named Matt Cutts started a blog and my exchanges with him at that time in his comments changed the entire situation for me and my attitude about Google. I still criticize them but at least there is a place to do so and a real human being to interact with.
There is some reason to believe that some Google employees may read this thread, but there is no doubt about it with Matt's blog.
I am still upset that the solution had to arrive as a personal blog instead of an official organ of the company but it is working somewhat.
What people want is Matt Cutts (or someone as smart and informed as he is) with a staff of hundreds, and don't tell me GOOG can't afford that.
If we take the current supplemental problem, however, the problem is more human indifference. Even if Google had no idea that the supplemental bug (as GG called it) existed, they sure knew within hours of going live with BD. They have the "FEB index and/or algo" but they kept on alternating that with the seriously flawed BD index (and still keep on). Perhaps the way they designed the switchover, it has to be done live.
So they have seriously damaged the revenues of countless websites either because they chose to do this live or because they don't want to pull it back (which would likely be a function of not wanting to admit serious incompetence) and go with the FEB index until they get BD right.
Either way that shows a total indifference to all of us. And from a dollars and cents point of view they're correct. The average surfer may notice some odd results but probably won't turn against Google over it unless it continues for months (or the media picks it up and tarnishes that sparking Google reputation).
But again Google shows they view our content as theirs for the taking with zero reciprocal responsibility on their part.
What people want is Matt Cutts (or someone as smart and informed as he is) with a staff of hundreds, and don't tell me GOOG can't afford that.
Ok, so you want better communication? Specifically, what kinds of things do you want to hear, since you really didn't provide many details?
I'm also interested in knowing whether you have suggestions about how many people google should hire for this function, how they can justify the cost to shareholders, and how they could possibly avoid being totally inundated with both legit. and completely stupid questions? And what kind of interface would you like, and how should they implement it so you would like that.
I'm being serious here. Again, I think there's a lot of google things that could be improved, but it would be really nice if people making the criticism would make an effort to understand the issues google (or yahoo, or any company) has to deal with in a very real world and make suggestions with enough detail and thought to actually be practical.
I'm sure the black hats would love to have Google spell out every detail of its algorithm to make their reverse engineering easier, but let's be realistic: That would be like taping the vault's combination next to the bank's front door.
This is one of the most often used mantras on Webmasterworld, and it flies in the face of logic and common sense.
It is quite clear that Google is very easily spammed even with their dark veil of secrecy. The spammers will ALWAYS win in the short run regardless of how much information Google supplies.
IMO a much more realistic answer to the spam problem is to provide a clear, easy to understand set of rules that must be followed in order to remain in Goolge's index. All webmasters would then know what is and what is not allowed so the playing field would be completely level for those who choose to play by the rules.
But how about those who choose not to play by the rules you say? Well, they will always be there regardless. There will always be some who will "push the envelope".
Google needs to simply draw a clear line in the sand and let everyone know that if it's crossed they'll be banned from ever having a site in the Google index again. The hard-core spammers will ignore the warning and pay dearly. Honest webmasters will never have to worry about their sites getting kicked out of Google.
The overall amount of spam in the index will drop to insignificant levels very quickly because most webmasters will play it safe by staying a bit behind the line.
Suppose the government only disclosed what is and what is not against the law to the police, not the general public (Google's vow of secrecy). Then suppose you get pulled over and the officer tells you that you broke a law and he takes you to jail (getting dropped from the index) - but he cannot tell you which law you broke because that would simply encourage others to "edge up to the line". Ridiculous, isn't it?
Instead, we choose to make the laws known and enforce them when they are broken - and the system works very well overall. Of course the criminal justice system isn't a perfect analogy to search engines but the point is still very relevant.
As it is now Google's index is riddled with spam AND they create enormous ill will by dropping honest sites in a futile attempt (under the current system) to weed out spam.
Google's approach is exactly opposite the way it should be. They could easily reduce the overall level of spam AND prevent much of the ill will at the same time simply by laying out clear, easy to undertand rules and making the penalities so severe (a permament ban) that only the hard-core spammers would attempt to edge too close to the line and they would pay a heavy proce for doing so - right now the only price they pay is having a spam site dropped from the index. No biggie, domains are dirt cheap and content can be lifted for free. It doesn't have to be this way folks.
(and rest of post!)
They can justify the cost to shareholders by pointing out that Google as a business has a relationship with its users and advertisers.
If the shareholders kick off, Google can point out to them that without the content they have scooped up and reproduced without permission of the owners of that content (copyright?!) they would not have a marketable product! :)
I agree Google is far worse at protecting itself from spamming than MSN or Yahoo and makes it worse for everyone by catching thousands of innocent, honest websites in their draconian crackdowns (which simply close one hole and cause spammers to move on to the next).
I honestly think they are so locked into the idea of PR (more for marketing and reputaiton than anything) that they won't admit that its the main cause of their problems. Almost ALL the problems honest sites have eperience in the past year have resulted from Google attempting to preserve the integrity of PR.
As to rbcal's last comment.
c'mon EVERYBODY spends more on customer relations than Google. GEEZ! I get a bad bag of bagels from a multi-billion $ multiinational, I phone the toll free listed on the bag, talk to a rep and they mail me a coupon for a new bag.
Google has NEVER cared in the least about customer service (interesting in that as an AdSense affiliate you;re supposed to have a working contact public phone number posted on your site - where's Google's?).
Specifically, what kinds of things do you want to hear, since you really didn't provide many details?
What I want to hear is not material. I want Google to listen patiently to all the crack-pot ideas that eminate from places like this and have staff meetings to discuss and brainstorm about them. My guess is they already do this but I contend they are not doing enough of it yet...
This will pay off in the long term. More information, more human thought is always better than less.
But most importantly the whole communication thing has to be led by someone who understands the problem from both sides (definitely not me, but I could list the qualities, qualifications and knowledge such a leader should have).
When there's a list of ways in which you cannot exploit and you do, you get penalized.
As it is, Google has a gun pointed on every webmaster's head (honest or not), with a bullet and five empty chambers. Sometimes it blows your head off and you dont know why.
The same way the algo penalizes automaticaly, it could, at least, send an automated email: "you were penalized by XYZ".
Then the webmaster could come here, whine a little, get some help and do a reinclusion request.
But no, its like someone elegantly put it: the cops come, arrest you, tell you comitted a crime, but dont tell you which crime is it.
People would react and fight back. Thats what i see happening here.
"If it's a clause as important as that it could be seen as not being clear enough to warn users."
Nope, don't think that would be the case. Maybe you should talk to some legal folks.
There is an ever increasing body of evidence that 99.99% of all people who click "I agree" do not read or understand what they are clicking about. It is just a matter of time before a case comes before a court that moots those clicks because even the judges do this. For now all those TOS writers are living in a fantasy world.
I am not talking about the Google TOS specifically but TOS in general, there is a Mount Everest of unread legalese out there and it's going to blow up one day.
And even if it WAS all that would mean is some law firm thought it was sufficient to provide some protection in a law suit.
A disclaimer isn't law; it has no standing. Its a warning that can be used in the company's defence in a legal proceeding to suggest the plaintiff did not exercise due caution.
I can put a disclaimer on my site that says I may take your money and not bother to ship your product. Ain't gonna help me a lot no matter where I place it (cept might discourage sales :)
it could, at least, send an automated email
Google began a pilot program like this last fall, but they often must guess at the email address -- that's not their fault, by the way, and it is one of the obstacle to such an automated email program.
When I attend conferences with Google engineers in attendance, I've found they really do listen. I've been there when webmasters brought up ideas that were later implemented. And I've seen real responsiveness right here on these forums from the several official Google staff members who read and post. In fact, these folks have a very strong presence and have shown over and over that they do care.
Also, it's important not to underestimate the technical complications involved with shepherding such a gargantuan data set. I once worked with a server farm of about 50 machines that coordinated private financial data world wide and fed it to a mainframe. Maintaining data integrity for just that much was a huge challenge for a large staff. And Google's server farm is more than 1,000 times that size.
It's not really a question of defending the Google status quo or attacking it, as far as I see it. It's more about wrapping our heads around the real world situation. It's mostly an issue of scale -- mega scale! It doesn't easily reduce to analogies drawn from our interpersonal lives.
If you look at the other engines wrestling with this level of data, they ARE afffected by the spam that is aimed primarily at Google. And if those engines grow in market share, and more spam gets designed specifically for them, then they will struggle even more.
I do wonder at the excessive public use of this current and troubled data set by Google. Perhaps there was no easy road back. This is an infrastructure change, after all, and not an algorithm update. The fact that changing an infrastructure made for this much turmoil -- that alone is evidence of the complexity involved. Didn't Matt Cutts say "It should be much more subtle/gentle than an update." He was not exactly on the money there.
But look at that -- he was TALKING about Big Daddy over two months ago on his blog, and he was and is inviting feedback from webmasters. And then GoogleGuy posted here last week that he thought the engineers found a problem that accounted for a lot of what was being complained about -- and they had begun a fix.
Now that is listening to the webmaster public.
So back to the question, what value is Google? Liane hit the nail on the head -- they bring in a ton of business for many people, even though we can't "rely" on them. I see evidence that they are working towards more reliability and responsiveness -- but we must also be realists about the realm where we have hung out our shingle. It's a huge, trail-blazing experiment with no exact parallel anywhere else.
[edited by: tedster at 4:10 am (utc) on Mar. 13, 2006]
If there are clear rules, which everybody knows, then everybody can exploit them in the same way.
But everybody doesn't know the rules and won't know the rules. Most site owners aren't selling things, aren't in the SEO business, don't hire SEOs, don't frequent sites like Webmaster World, and have never even heard of the Google Webmaster guidelines.
For practical reasons alone, it's likely that--except in the most outrageous and obvious cases--multiple factors have to be taken into consideration. The "rules" are unlikely to be as simple as "You'll be banned for on-the-nose anchor text" or "You'll be banned if you have three sets of H1 tags on the same page." But if you have on-the-nose anchor text, three sets of H1 tags, a ridiculously high keyword density, keyword-stuffed alt text, a dozen crosslinked domains, and examples of a few other SEO techniques, and if you've also got 1,000 pages of boilerplate affiliate copy, then statistical probability (based on Google's analysis of known spam) may suggest that your site wasn't designed for users.
You also need to remember the Web--and therefore definitions of spam--are constantly changing. It wasn't that long ago that the black hats were spewing datafeed affiliate sites onto the Web; after that came scraper sites; today it may be keyword-driven, computer-generated "user review" sites with millions of largely blank pages, or it may be something else that most of us haven't even heard of yet. So defining "spam" is a a lot more complicated than defining "burglary" or "mugging."
Getting back to the question posed by the title of this thread, "What value are Google if you can't rely on them?", perhaps the answer is "Not very much (to you, anyway) if you think Google exists to serve you instead of users." Once you've accepted that answer, you'll need to decide what to do about a search engine that you find useless. One simple solution would be to ban googlebot with your robots.txt file. You'll be sticking it to the Man, you'll spend a lot less time agonizing over Google's search results, and you'll be motivated to develop a business plan that doesn't depend entirely on organic traffic from an unreliable search engine that you don't trust.
ADDENDUM: Great post, Tedster. (You must have posted it while I was writing this reply to earlier comments.) I think you've summed things up perfectly, and I for one won't object if you put this thread to bed. :-)
[edited by: europeforvisitors at 4:13 am (utc) on Mar. 13, 2006]
IMO a much more realistic answer to the spam problem is to provide a clear, easy to understand set of rules that must be followed in order to remain in Goolge's index.
Interesting stuff, birdstuff, but it seems to me that Google has already spelled it out pretty well by suggesting the rule of thumb "Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?"
I believe this is a pretty well defined line, but because so many webmasters don't pay any attention to it they are surprised when Google does something to enforce it. Then we complain that Google is being too harsh and unfair.
What value are Google if you can't rely on them?
Google is of no real value at all. Many internet widget salesmen have made money off of it, and many webmasters have designed sites based on it (have a look at forum89 occasionally), but they're competing with millions of other widget sales-people all selling a limited number of widget varieties. Various SEO techniques are used to climb to the top of the pile, then the algo changes, and suddenly WW has a lot of new members. Considering that the whole approach is not much of a business model to begin with, those who have made money during their time at the top should be glad they did and move on.
Personally, I find the internet a wasteland of virtual advertising flyers, and G is very much responsible for this. It's hard to imagine this changing anytime soon, but in the meantime it's not too surprising that people competing for the exact same internet sales as a million others don't always find themselves at the top, (or find their 250,000 artificially created pages disappear entirely, because Google caught on). After all, if your product is unique, you'll probably always occupy the first spot for appropriate searches, and also have no need for thousands of pages created only to internally boost the site.
For those of you who don't fit the model I described above, and got clipped primarily because G is incompetent, my sympathies, but this wouldn't be happening in the first place if it weren't for so many widget salesmen trying to game the serps.
"If it's a clause as important as that it could be seen as not being clear enough to warn users."
Nope, don't think that would be the case. Maybe you should talk to some legal folks. >
It doesn't really matter where the clauses are or even what the TOS is to webmasters - there is no contract in existence as far as I can see.
G just takes the stuff, reproduces it in its own index, and if you don't like it, all you can do is ban Gbot and request that your pages are removed from G (which they evidently aren't, looking at the age-old stuff we have been seeing lately!).
It still seems a very one-sided relationship to me.
I do have to wonder if there might be something about Intellectaul Property laws which make G's unilateral gathering of such material unlawful in itself, but I have little knowledge of these matters. I do know what happens if you downloaded someone's music and then publicly displayed it! :)
What an absurd statement. Google is nowhere near a monopoly. A monopoly means one company in a given market. Last time I checked, there were 3 other engines. People have choices. ASK, MSN, Yahoo and Google.
If Google is of so little value to you as a webmaster, build for the other three engines and move on. You have that choice. If searchers feel that Google is unreliable, they will move on as well.
Nevertheless, in acquiring a near monopoly, Google has added whole new set of responsibilities they are not handling very well. As a company, Google was always indifferent to the needs of their content producers, I think feeling protected in that they did not charge for inclusion. We'll see if their arbitrary and damaging practices will end up in legal action; betcha there's more than one lawyer salivating at the prospect of a class action suit. I think their situation is more precarious than microsoft's was, as any industry that controls a major media asset always gets more scrutiny.
I also think they have sown the seeds for eventual regulatory action in AdSence and every ensuing non-search product they launch. MS had problems not because they dominated the OS market but because of the assertion they used that to unfairly limit competition in other markets. While I am sure Google took extensive legal advice before launching Adsense, it contains a considerable danger. Already Google has established a policy of letting certain types of sites - those created for the sole purpose of selling Google advertising products - slip through their guidelines.
As usual, in the entire process its independent webmasters who are the pawns. We're not even protected under consumer protection laws as we are content producers operating without any agreement. This is becoming a mature industry. How long before we get smart and form an industry association to protect our interests (like every other industry on the planet already has)?
<<Nope, don't think that would be the case. Maybe you should talk to some legal folks>>
The days of companies hiding behind the small print are gone, consumer groups and the Govt and the courts these days come down on the side of the consumer in these matters.
You're wrong. A monopoly does not mean you are the sole company in a market. Google has more of the SE market already than Bell had of the telephone market when it was broken up in a Federal anti-trust action (course a lot of those Baby Bells may be back together again soon :)
If Google is of so little value to you as a webmaster, build for the other three engines and move on. You have that choice. If searchers feel that Google is unreliable, they will move on as well. >
In the UK, a monopoly is where a company has more than a 25% share of the market.
Google is a good example of a monopoly which has arisen due to imperfect competition.
Google has the same value as any method of generating traffic.
There is no reliable method of generating traffic from any search engine.
Frequently even bricks and mortar methods fail, people get tired of the same old pitches.
In short diversify and adapt.
Like tedster, I also have a background dealing with large database systems.
In almost 37 years of dealing with systems of all kinds I have yet to see any software system that was error free.
That goes many times over for a lot of web sites.
Starting with poor hosting provider setups, to webmasters not understanding what is really going on.
Now I almost responded to the cops arresting a person and telling them they commited a crime but not what it was.
I was laughing so hard I couldn't even attempt a response.
Currently winding through the slow ever finer grinding wheels that are the US court system is a group of federal civil (not criminal) cases that mirror that particular scenerio.
We may get the civil version of what could happen.
consumer = user of the service, business or individual.
The rights of the "consumer" are a big deal these days unlike in the past the big boys just walked all over you? These days the rights of the consumer are becoming more and more protected. It's very fashionable like "save the whale"